Even on our best days, stress and anxiety can prevent us from doing our best work. It’s never been more critical for businesses to address the mental well-being of their people. And that’s what this episode is all about – actionable insights & proven mindfulness that lead to healthier organizations from the inside out.
This timely episode features our host SatJ, CEO of Diamondpick and Dr. Srividhya – Professor, Head Psychologist, Behaviour Therapist and Transformational Coach at SafeGuard Family and Senior Consultant Psychologist, Mindscape Counseling – who talk about confronting the stigma surrounding this topic and how to prioritize mental health in the workplace.
- We have transitioned from the ‘great resignation’ to the ‘great exhaustion,’ with one of every three employees reporting stress, anxiety, or burnout. Employees were largely overwhelmed by post covid effects, higher stress levels, hybrid working styles, and lots more.
- Hybrid work comes with a risk of digital presentism and a lot more expectation when compared to a fully remote or in-office job making it one of the leading causes of employee burnout.
- According to mental health at workplace report, more than 50% of people quit with mental health as their reason for quitting, many of these women.
- Organizations can create a psychologically safe place to work by creating mental health ambassadors, create support groups, group sessions, and peer support groups, conduct mind & body sessions at work, and creating an engaged organization.
- To make a difference, it’s important to be an ally and stand up for others even if they’re not in the room. It is necessary that we create an inclusive environment to make our workplaces better.
Read the blog version of this powerful conversation where Dr. Srividhya shares with us plenty of practical takeaways to take care of ourselves, self-diagnose mental health issues, and create a psychologically safe place to work.
Hireside Chats, Episode 6: Mental Health Matters: Creating a Psychologically Great Place to Work
SatJ: Mental health in the workplace is at the top of everyone’s mind. It is estimated that 264 million people are affected by mental health globally. The pandemic, the lockdown, and other disruptions that came with it have made the mental health situation more acute. The pandemic was the most traumatic event that most of us have lived through, and post-pandemic is not any better.
A study by McKinsey found that one of every three employees says their return to the workplace has hurt their mental health. Many are feeling anxious, stressed, or depressed. And those working hybrid or remotely feel isolated or are experiencing some form of burnout. We’ve transitioned from the great resignation to the significant exhaustion phase.
So what, according to you, has led to this phenomenon, and what can we do about it?
Dr. Srividya: Organizations at large were earlier concerned about employees spitting in mass numbers, while the real setback being great exhaustion truly. It’s because people are largely overwhelmed that they often feel empty. Factors could range from structural issues around pay, gender biases, disrespect at work, unprecedented levels of unpaid work, and lower incomes to higher stress levels and worse mental health in general.
It’s a constant internal battle, and this is largely prominent in women, unfortunately, they lack the motivation that their male counterparts have. These are the red flags. So a large focus on mental health has to be the top priority for the organizations.
SatJ: In your opinion, how much does the hybrid work environment contribute to burnout, stress, or anxiety?
Dr. Srividya: Initially, there was a feeling that hybrid work would be the best of both worlds. Everybody was looking forward to that, but unfortunately, optimism among workers soon gave way to fatigue. In a hybrid work environment, they had two workplaces to maintain, one in the office and one at home. It involves a lot of planning and a stop-start routine. So it’s the psychological shift, the change of setting every day, and that was so tiring. So this constant feeling of never being settled turns into stress, and productive homeworking is always being disrupted. Employees also felt that difficulty switching off from work and struggling to adapt to hybrid working, and the major factor was the permeable boundaries between the home and the work.
Employees end up with a working week they have no control over. It’s like the fixed full-time office, which just happens to be in the worker’s home twice a week. And also, hybrid work comes with a greater risk of digital presentism compared to fully remote jobs. Which requires the employer’s trust from the get-go. If an employer sets up the hybrid without trusting their workforce, it’s an overwhelming feeling. Workers feel pressure to show their boss they’re not taking advantage of home working. So that could also lead to overwork and burnout. So the effects of which could be devastating but take a long time even to show up. So even after working for long hours, the employer feels like the employee hasn’t done their dues. All this leads to stress.
SatJ: Indian working women face higher burnout than the global average, and this is kind of corroborated by a survey conducted by Deloitte. Another disturbing statistic states that 92% of women reported menopausal symptoms that affected them at work. And many experience increased stress at various stages of their lives. Women at the peak of their careers often receive no support leading them to quit.
What are some of the ways all of us can support mental health for women?
Dr. Srividya: Women face unique mental health challenges and may experience mental illness differently than their male co-workers. So the list of challenges affecting women is so long. For one, women are prone to certain diagnoses; they are twice as likely as men to experience depression. Apart from that, pay inequity, caregiving responsibility, and biases at the workplace are among the most contributing risk factors to common mental health conditions. In some cases, infertility and postpartum depression are added to the mix.
Physical and emotional caregiving roles such as daughters, mothers, colleagues, and even leaders result in heavier burdens. Then there’s being underrepresented in leadership at work, juggling the parental leave, and also having office housekeeping roles.
So many of these challenges are largely invisible since women may be reluctant to discuss them at all, much less at work. Add these up. It’s no surprise that gender adds another layer of complexity to workplace mental health. The structures and systems of most companies were built with men in mind.
Many women may not be inclined to disclose mental health challenges. So the women in the audience, if you are listening to this, I would like to emphasize that if you are or know any other woman who is struggling with mental health at work and/or if you are a leader who wants to create a mentally healthy environment for your female counterparts, I would really love to share some recommendations:
- First, reflect on your needs. Think of the nature of your mental health and your specific challenge. Is it chronic, a recurring episodic, or a one-time event? Consider the contributing factors. Are they work-related or limited to your personal life?
- Workplace discrimination might make you more reluctant to discuss the problem at work. But be clear about the effects. Is your mental health challenge affecting your work performance?
- Find allies and safe spaces. Allies can teach you empathy and resilience. They can also spur creativity and can fuel your ambition.
- Talk to your manager. You may fear putting your already hard-to-come-by promotion in jeopardy or bothering yourself with the mental health challenge, but then, you have to really open up, and evaluate the culture. You shouldn’t have to jeopardize your mental health to earn a living.
Fortunately, companies are realizing that more and more, as employees prioritize mental health, it plays out through recruitment and retention. So it’s okay to walk away from work if that isn’t working. According to mental health at workplace report, more than 50% of people quit citing reasons for mental health.
And that’s a very good move prioritizing themselves and their mental health. Leaders should always support women’s mental health. Unless we are in positions of power, there is only so much that individual women can do to advocate for our mental health. So, leaders must rectify structural issues that harm women, such as pay inequity, insufficient parental leave, and lack of consequences for microaggressions or harassment.
And last but not least, I would want to foster inclusive flexibility. Try to incorporate it into the policies and practices. Every woman and every individual will need something different, be it remote work or flexible work. So be sure to revisit this with your direct reports since shifts happen over time with life changes.
Reorienting to support women’s mental health at work will ultimately benefit everyone. Also, other factors like a new dad who wants to be more involved, Gen Zs who expect flexibility by default, etc. Hopefully, there will come a time when we won’t have to separate out the needs of women but instead will have achieved true culture change and inclusion.
SatJ: I recently read a Microsoft work trend index study that shows that at 29%, India has a second-highest number of employees dealing with corporate burnout. 8 out of 10 workers with a mental health condition say shame and stigma prevent them from seeking help.
The biggest hurdle standing in the way of people getting help for their mental health issues is a surrounding stigma. And I think you also pointed out how important it is for leaders to step up and recognize the stigma that is surrounding these issues. And while companies have started to advocate for mental health in the past few years, the cultures still have subtle cues of prejudice that make it difficult for workers to open up and get help truly.
In such a situation, what, according to you, must organizations do to de-stigmatize mental health and normalize conversations around it at work, doctor?
Dr. Srividya: Organizations must create an environment that normalizes open conversations around mental health. It must start at the top, with leadership taking the first step and being transparent and honest about their own struggles. Nobody is immune to this. Everybody is prone to it at some point or the other. If a leader can discuss his diabetes or hypertension, why not speak about psychological disturbances?
If leadership doesn’t model this behavior, employees will likely hide any issues of their own in an effort to mimic their superiors. So leading with empathy and listening when employees are low is essential to creating shifts within a company’s culture. That change alone can make an impact on how mental health is seen and addressed in the workplace.
Some employees would be more likely to seek mental health support if there were more open conversations on the topic in their workplace. And humanizing yourself shows employees that they’re not alone in the process and that others have also been through similar struggles. This goes a long way toward removing the shame or the stigma.
With transparent and honest communication, employees who feel uncomfortable with mental health can see themselves through others’ experiences, which can be comforting and healing.
SatJ: Can you share some good examples of what other organizations are currently doing to provide the best mental health programs for the employees? I know in your organization, you work with several corporations providing these best-in-class mental health programs for their employees.
Dr. Srividya: Few organizations adopted creating metal ambassadors within the organization. They run support groups, run regular group sessions on those topics which are brushed under the carpet that they’re not so comfortable talking about, fearing stigma around it.
Peer support is a powerful lever to reduce Stigma. You can incorporate mind-body sessions at work that will be very fruitful and calm for both body and mind. Such sessions give them mental clarity and also body awareness and sharpen their concentration. So the entire organization is engaged. Engaging in a cause keeps employees happy while making them aware of mental health. Organizations need to start incorporating these measures immediately.
SatJ: Data from the World Health Organization has estimated that 12 billion working days are lost every year due to depression or anxiety alone. I’m sure this is costing the global economy almost a trillion dollars. Organizations are trying to deal with symptoms of great exhaustion and anxiety by switching to a four-day week offering mental health support, introducing mental health days, and so on. But these measures are often tokenistic rather than things that lead to real change.
Almost all organizations today have an EAP or an employee assistance program in place. We even have it at Diamond Pick, but we see less than 5% utilization of the EAP program. How do we take these programs up a notch to make them all work for us?
Most organizations have these programs in place just to tick a box. How many of these programs do we have our leadership participate in? Like I said before, we have to lead by example.
So, the current challenge is, though organizations are implementing mental well-programs for the employees, a lot more promotions from the organizations and leaders have to be formulated to create more holistic growth and development.
Employee well-being programs are beneficial to both the employer and employees as happier people can really contribute to more enhanced performances holistically. So promotion of mental health in the workplace is all the more relevant in the context of a nearly universal market economy in which the base of economic activities is fast.
Workers worldwide are faced with so much like never before, from layoffs, mergers, downsizing, contingent employment, increased workload, and international competition. So it is the interest of employers to provide their employees with decent working conditions and a supportive culture with a top-down and bottom-up approach to success. Creating a mentally healthy ecosystem has to be prioritized by all the stakeholders.
Mental health is trending right now, so every company wants to jump in and do something, but they need to realize this is a long-term commitment with the complete involvement of leadership. It has to become a business imperative. Not like if there is a cost-cutting, the first thing to cut down or limit the budget is the wellness programs.
SatJ: From EAP is a good-to-have to a must-have is something that needs to happen for mental wellness to take off at workplaces truly. There is also a sudden emergence of several mental health apps and many mental health experts out there today, pretty much everybody gives gyan on mental health. And all they need is a social media page or a tool to advocate mental wellness.
How useful do you think these are, and what is your take on the emergence of such health apps?
Dr. Srividya: Technology has definitely taken the mental health industry by storm during COVID and post-COVID.
So, for those who cannot work with a mental health professional because of a lack of time or resources, or accessibility, mental health apps do have some advantages, and they do come in handy. So, at the very best, you know, they can provide some sort of guidance or support, which is sometimes better than nothing.
At least it helps remove the barriers and stigma surrounding mental health. But if the mental health issues are chronic or continue to persist, it’s better to seek help from a professional. The apps are definitely not a replacement for the traditional therapy, and it is definitely not a substitute. Another concern is understanding if apps work for all kinds of people.
Even if you just Google it, you will be able to get so many stress relief techniques, but is that the one I’m looking for? Will that work for me? That depends on individual individuals and what are the core issues they are struggling with. So it’s definitely handy, but it is not a substitute for seeking professional help.
SatJ: As you mentioned, mental health can affect anyone. And we all need some help and guidance with self-care. And we did discuss, at least at a superficial level, or to begin with, some self-care is not bad. Can you share some practical tips for our listeners on managing mental health?
Dr. Srividya: Like how you clean up your desk, or you clean up your room every day, similarly, you have to clean up mind space that you accumulated throughout the day. I usually say things like mind recharge and mind detox. So every morning, when you wake up and recharge your mind and find a purpose, what is there to look forward to today?
And when you go to bed at night, detox your mind. That is very, very important because most of the thoughts are recurring thoughts, and 80% are recurring. So detox your mind before going to bed so that you don’t carry unnecessary, unwanted, unpleasant things for the next day if you are looking forward to a fresh new day.
So detox is typically you reflect on all that happened throughout the day – allow what has to be stored in your memory and what has to be discarded. In this way, you’re not going to take all those unwanted thoughts into your memory, and you’ll be free of those racing thoughts.
SatJ: And how can one self-diagnose? How do we know if we are silently suffering from some mental health issue? Are there some tips that you can share with us on that?
Dr. Srividya: Look for these signs:
- Any changes in your appetite, either people overeat or undereat
- Also, look for any change in sleeping patterns.
- Are you suddenly trying to withdraw from people?
- Any frequent outbursts?
- What are your racing thoughts, is it recurrent? Is it positive or negative?
- Do you have that constant restlessness, and fatigue?
- Any new habit formation? Most often, people get into those unhealthy habits as a coping mechanism for getting into substance abuse.
- Do you have to fake emotions? So that you don’t have to reveal your true emotional state.
These are some warning signs you can check on yourself.
SatJ: I just want to talk a little bit about how we can create a psychologically great workplace. According to a recent study by Google, the secret behind high-performing employees is psychological safety at the workplace. However, lack of awareness of the full range of employee mental health experience is one of the biggest challenges that keep organizations from offering the best support in times of need.
So how do we make our organizations a safe space? How do you think employees at all levels can communicate openly without fear or discrimination? And how important is the leadership role in creating a safe space?
Dr. Srividya: Given the stigma often associated with mental health challenges, finding a safe space to tell your story and receive support from allies is a critical step. So when we say psychologically safe space, it is an absence of interpersonal fear. I’m not being judged by people around me. When psychological safety is present, people are able to speak up with work-relevant content.
When you create a psychologically safe work environment, your employees are more likely to feel a sense of belonging. Moreover, such environments often result in positive and supportive work culture by creating an open, appreciative, supportive, and accepting work environment like we are sending a message that everybody is cared for.
This can lead to increased job satisfaction and low turnout rates as well. So organizations have to train leaders, managers, and all employees on how to navigate mental health at work, have difficult conversations, and create supportive workplaces. So managers are often the first to notice changes and supporting the direct reports.
Building an environment of psychological safety is key. Mental health policies, practices, culturally competent benefits, and other resources must be put in place and also sometimes over-communicated. To create a psychologically safe place to work, here are four steps:
- Stop seeing mental health as a productivity issue: Mental health is a human concern and not a productivity issue.
- Stop talking about mental illness as a burden. It is everybody’s responsibility.
- Employers need to aim for talent. When we talk about inclusion, it’s not about talent anymore.
- Treat mental health as a human right. Everybody has a right to live happily.
SatJ: And how do you think we can encourage more diversity within the mental health area doc?
Dr. Srividya: When we talk about diversity, though we recruit people from diverse backgrounds, the next step is inclusion. It’s all about making sure everyone feels welcome, valued, and respected, regardless of their background, experiences, or ability.
It’s about embracing unique differences and allowing them to enrich our lives and workplaces. To compete for talent, companies will have to make changes as younger generations are increasingly prioritizing their mental health and the work cultures that support them.
So foster that sense of belonging. So you have to be open-minded and curious. Be curious to learn from one another. Share stories and ask questions. That’s how we grow. And listen actively. It’s important to hear what others have to say. Validate the experiences and empathize with your feelings. Encourage diversity, and diverse groups bring fresh perspectives, innovative ideas and promote creative problem solving.
Be an ally, stand up for others even if they’re not in the room, we are all in this together. So remember, when we create an inclusive environment, we are not only making our workplaces better, but we are also making the world a more beautiful, accepting place for everybody to live.
SatJ: Now it’s time for our customary rapid-fire round that brings out some very candid responses, and I’ll request you to speak your mind and keep your sentences as short as possible, but you know, make them hard-hitting, we are open to taking it. So to start with my first question.
- To you, what is the biggest misconception about mental health?
Dr. Srividya: When somebody says I have an issue, they are viewed as lunatics who need institutionalized care. They don’t see them as a normal human being.
- And what is one of the biggest reasons for mental health issues today?
Dr. Srividya: A saying comes to my mind now, where it is too much, something is missing. The typical issue today is the flip side abundance mindset. The millennial anxieties that are spoiled for choices today. And that is the main issue.
- And one mental health mantra that all of us should implement.
Dr. Srividya: It’s okay not to be okay. It’s not necessary that I have to be okay all the time. It’s okay not to be okay!
- And how do you personally cope with tough times, doctor?
Dr. Srividya: I recharge and detox, I’m a mindfulness practitioner. So I quickly resolve things and don’t carry it to the next day.
- And what is your best self-care tip?
Dr. Srividya: Self-love, allocate time for yourself unconditionally, no matter what.
- And finally, can you think of a conversation that changed someone’s life? And do you think it’s worth sharing in this forum?
Dr. Srividya: I always lead my clients inside out, you know, leading them through the journey of introspection. There have been many people who have come up with suicidal thoughts and would come with many attempts. They felt like they have to talk to me. And this journey of introspection changed their whole perspective, and they felt life was so beautiful. Just because of one rejection or one job loss, I can’t afford to lose, but I can still conquer and lead a better life.
This episode is full of important tips and takeaways on destigmatizing mental health at work and creating psychologically safe places to work.
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